January 16, 2014
The Commission of Audit, given the task by the Abbott government of identifying opportunities to sell public assets and slash government spending, has held meetings with SBS and Australia Post.
The head of the audit, Tony Shepherd, also told a Senate inquiry the commission ”probably may consider” recommending the GST be raised or its base broadened.
Questioned about potential privatisations, Mr Shepherd revealed that audit commissioners would meet representatives of the National Disability Insurance Scheme this week. Treasurer Joe Hockey last year raised the prospect of Medibank Private taking on the administration of the NDIS.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said it was apparent the government was now considering selling off the NDIS.
The government plans to sell Medibank Private but the commission ”may or may not” recommend asset sales, Mr Shepherd said. He would not comment on a suggestion by Labor senator Sam Dastyari that the only reasons to meet SBS representatives was because it was either ”on the block” for sale or that its part-private funding model could be replicated at the ABC.
Mr Shepherd said SBS, which receives two-thirds of its $270 million funding from the federal government, requested the meeting. An SBS spokeswoman would not comment on its detail.
The government has played down suggestions Australia Post could be sold but the commissioners also met Australia Post managers.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has ruled out changes to the GST but Mr Shepherd said ”everything is on the table” as far as the audit was concerned. He told the inquiry cuts had to be found to counter an ageing population, poor productivity and a persistently high dollar. ”This situation is not going to fix itself. The magic pudding is a fable,” he said.
Labor and Greens members of the committee, who have been accused of trying to make political mileage out of the audit process, leapt on evidence government ministers had directed the Commission of Audit since drawing up terms of reference.
At the start of the inquiry hearing Mr Shepherd said there had been no interference from the government but he later apologised when a letter from Mr Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann was produced by audit secretary Peter Crone. The letter, which began ”Further to the terms of reference, I am writing to provide guidance …” alerted the commission to government plans to cut public service jobs by 12,000.
Mr Shepherd revealed the commission may seek an extension as it struggles to finalise an interim report by the end of January.
Mr Hockey will keep all recommendations secret until after he delivers his first Budget in May.
The ACTU called for the public release of all 300 submissions the commission has received.
”When big dollars, big powerful companies and big decisions affecting millions of people’s lives are at stake, transparency should be paramount,” ACTU president Ged Kearney said.
”The Abbott government is looking to make extreme cuts to jobs and services around our country and is hiding behind the Commission of Audit. We are concerned by the dangerous level of secrecy.”
The Sydney Morning Herald